Many modern horror writers have drawn on the works of H.P. Lovecraft for inspiration, but other early writers of weird fiction, such as Algernon Blackwood and Arthur Machen, have received less attention. Amanda Downum’s novel Dreams of Shreds and Tatters, builds on the writing of Robert W. Chambers, particularly his collection of short pieces The King in Yellow. When the main character, Liz, goes in search of an artist friend who’s disappeared, she gets drawn into a plot to open a doorway between our world and the lost city of Carcosa.
Downum does an excellent job of incorporating elements from different storytelling traditions. In addition to the King in Yellow milieu, she also draws on Lovecraft’s Dreamlands (which get used far less often by modern storytellers than the Cthulhu Mythos), and the Greek myth of the bacchante. The latter seem to overlap a bit with the Wild Hunt as well. Such a wide variety of conceits could easily devolve into a muddled mess, but Downum makes them fit together coherently. In doing so, she pulls off an effect similar to some of the best weird fiction: the idea that all of humanity’s most enduring stories reflect a deeper occult truth.
This atmosphere is lent additional strength by the vividness of Downum’s descriptions. The surreal, dreamlike quality both of the art made by Liz’s friend and of the realm it invokes contribute greatly to the story’s sense of wonder and menace. One can understand why the characters find Carcosa so alluring and why that allure threatens to destroy them.
The one flaw in the book has to do with the level of physical stress and exhaustion the characters are subjected to. Not in and of itself, but because their ability to function in such a state strained my suspension of disbelief at times. Nevertheless, Dreams of Shreds and Tatters is a great read for anyone looking for a modern twist on classic weird fiction.